43. Memorandum of Discussion at the 377th Meeting of the National Security Council0

[Here follow a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting and agenda items 1–4.]

5. The Situation in the Near East (NSC 5801/1;1 NSC Actions Nos. 1951,2 19553 and 1958;4 Memo for NSC from Acting Executive Secretary, subject: “Factors Affecting U.S. Policy Toward the Near East”, dated August 19, 19585)

Mr. Gray briefed the Council at considerable length with respect to the contents of the discussion paper on “Factors Affecting U.S. Policy Toward the Near East”. At the conclusion of his briefing, Mr. Gray suggested that the Council first tackle the question of whether the discussion paper was correct in stating that our two bedrock objectives in the Near East were, first, denial of the area to Soviet domination and, second, availability of Near Eastern oil to Western Europe on reasonable terms. For one thing, said Mr. Gray, there was a real question in the mind of the Planning Board as to whether or not the preservation of the independence of Israel should not also be included as a bedrock rather than a secondary U.S. objective. (A copy of Mr. Gray’s briefing note is filed in the minutes of the meeting, and another is attached to this memorandum.)6

[Page 155]

Called upon for his opinion, Secretary Herter stated that the discussion paper was very useful as a discussion piece for the Council, but should not be regarded as the basis of a Near East policy. So far as the matter of Israel was concerned, there has always been an assumption that Israel was here to stay. Any change in such an assumption would be momentous. It was noteworthy that Nehru had recently stated that the Arabs would have to recognize the permanency of Israel. However, it was a different matter if the United States were to commit itself to military force to preserve the independence of Israel.

The President commented that if Israel were to be in a situation to be seriously threatened, there would have to be a much greater build-up of military strength of Arab nations surrounding Israel. It seemed ironic to the President that not so long ago we were worrying about the likelihood of Israeli aggression against the Arab states, rather than the reverse. Secretary Herter commented that the Israelis were extremely worried about the obvious increase in the military capabilities of those hostile Arab states. Mr. Allen Dulles pointed out that Israel was vulnerable to surprise air attack, and that the Israelis lived in mortal terror of such an attack.

Secretary Herter alluded to the program of Ben-Gurion to enlarge greatly the population of Israel, which would have to mean increased territory, which in turn would be sure to mean war with Israel’s Arab neighbors. Secretary Herter went on to point out that we had been trying to persuade Israel to hold down immigration into that country. Accordingly, the question of how far we would go to preserve the independence of Israel, obviously depends in part on what steps Israel itself takes to safeguard its own future. Mr. Gray commented that there seemed to be clear recognition that Israel would have to put something in the pot itself in order to help ease the situation. In this connection, the President referred to a recent telegram he had sent to Ben-Gurion. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] alluded to the secret negotiations which Israel was now conducting with Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia. The President said that of course we were aware of these negotiations, but were keeping very quiet about them.

Mr. Gray pointed out that one of the problems that the Planning Board encountered in discussing the situation in the Near East area was the view that the United States should not do anything to build up Nasser or admit his leadership over the whole Arab world. Contrary to this view was the belief of the State and CIA representatives. Mr. Gray asked for the views of Secretary McElroy on this subject.

Secretary McElroy replied that Defense had been of the view that we could not avoid dealing with Nasser as head of the United Arab Republic, but that it was not desirable to treat him as the leader of the entire Near East area. General Twining agreed with Secretary McElroy’s view. [Page 156] Mr. Gray asked Mr. Dulles whether he felt it was practicable to follow the line suggested by Secretary McElroy. Mr. Dulles replied that he personally put much hope in moving along the lines suggested by the President in his speech before the United Nations. Mr. Dulles felt it would be wise to emphasize the economic side as opposed to the political, because in the economic and financial field Nasser did not have the same degree of power that he possessed as a political leader. Such an emphasis might cut down somewhat on Nasser’s leadership.

Mr. Gray then put to the Council the question as to whether or not the Planning Board should proceed with a review of our existing policy on the Near East (NSC 5801/1). The President replied that the Planning Board should probably do so, and Secretary Herter agreed, cautioning, however, that a new policy paper should not put the United States into too much of a straitjacket.

Mr. Gray expressed the opinion that we should concentrate on our bedrock objectives and let our secondary objectives proceed more slowly toward realization. The President said he thought that the Planning Board was correct in its selection of the two bedrock objectives, and that the objective of preserving the independence of Israel should not be added to our bedrock objectives at this time.

With respect to an Arab-Israeli settlement, Secretary Herter pointed out that one first had to find an opportunity before one could take the initiative toward such a settlement. He also expressed the opinion that if the Arabs were finally united they would feel sufficiently secure that they might be induced to agree to discuss a settlement with Israel.

At the conclusion of the discussion, the President turned to Mr. Gray and said that in asking for permission to proceed with a revision of our Near East policy, Mr. Gray had “bitten one off”.

The National Security Council:7

Discussed the subject, on the basis of the enclosure to the reference memorandum of August 19, 1958.
Directed the NSC Planning Board to review the statement of Long-Range U.S. Policy Toward the Near East contained in NSC 5801/1.

[Here follow agenda items 6–8.]

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Gleason on August 22.
  2. Document 5.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 31.
  4. See footnote 8, Document 36.
  5. See Document 39.
  6. See Document 42.
  7. Attached, but not printed.
  8. Paragraphs a and b constitute NSC Action No. 1973, approved by the President on August 26. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)